Here's how a Republican-controlled Senate's Obamacare strategy would likely play out:
First, expect a vote on full repeal. Republicans will use any procedural opening they can to get a full-repeal bill to Obama's desk, a Republican health care staffer said. Yes, Obama will veto it, and there will be plenty of eye rolling about how many futile repeal votes congressional Republicans have held. But the Senate has never held one, and any Republican who doesn't want to get primaried will want a chance to vote for repeal before moving on to anything that might look like "fixing" Obamacare.
After that, Republicans have two anti-Obamacare tracks — bills that might pass, and bills they could force Obama to veto.
There's some low-hanging fruit that could gain bipartisan support. If Republicans win the Senate, for example, Obama will almost surely be presented with a bill to repeal the health care law's tax on medical devices. That proposal has passed the House and could easily pass the Senate today, with strong bipartisan support — if it ever came up for a binding vote.
The GOP aide laid out a few more items that might win Democratic support, such as repealing the health insurance tax and stepping up the procedures for recapturing improper subsidies. Even a big-ticket item like repealing the employer mandate could attract red-state Democrats, allowing Republicans to argue that they're pursuing bipartisan reforms, even if most or all of their efforts are ultimately vetoed.
Aides also said Republicans will likely force Obama to veto a bill repealing the individual mandate. There's no way he'd ever sign such a bill, but the GOP sees political value in forcing the issue all the way to his desk.
"It's always better to change the law than to force a veto, but on fundamental differences, vetoes can be useful too," said Dean Clancy, a tea-party-aligned policy analyst.
"Recognizing that Obama will be president for the next three years, we will use every lever we can in the meantime to lay the groundwork for its repeal."
(Ironically, it's vulnerable Democrats who are probably most eager to vote for some of these bills. Majority Leader Harry Reid won't call a vote on a device-tax repeal; a Majority Leader Mitch McConnell probably would. And no one would be happier about that vote than Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana — a red state with a big device-industry presence.)
But eventually, the decisions for GOP leaders get harder: Do they want to fixate on unpopular parts of Obamacare, essentially using the Senate majority to amplify the message the House has been sending for the past four years? Or would they be better off advancing their own ideas, sending Obama bills that lay out a conservative vision of health care policy, rather than simply chipping away at his vision?
"If Republicans think they're going to win big majorities simply by saying the word 'Obamacare' over and over, I think they're kidding themselves," Clancy said. "To be a governing majority, you have to act like a governing majority."